The Power of Shame

I have always wondered at the power of shame to shape our worlds.  So much so, that when I began my six month counseling internship at a rehab hospital, I knew within weeks that my M.A. thesis would be about shame.  We have so much shame in our culture around aging and disability!

In my thesis I explain the Chinese word for I’m sorry: 对不起, which means literally “I cannot look up at you.”  That’s exactly what shame feels like.

A large section of my book “How To Believe In Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust and Your Own Inner Wisdom” is devoted to the study of shame, because shame is often a culprit in our inability to risk finding love again.  Here’s a short excerpt:

“Many early “love” relationships that begin in high school and college are, for the most part, total disasters, marked with constant broke ups and then that glorious feeling of making up. 

This is the time when we play at love, testing out our egos and power over others.  It is not uncommon for our earliest relationships to include much shaming and blaming as well as some emotional, if not physical abuse.  We generally have no idea what we are doing, and with little impulse control or understanding of what we are experiencing, cruelty is common and mistakes are made.

Only by entering into more mature, loving relationships much later, do we realize the low quality of our earliest attempts at bonding with others.  But even then, it can be difficult to end the destructive cycle created by early shaming experiences, which lead to future dysfunctional relationship patterns. 

Love has come to be defined as a challenging, shameful, painful struggle.  First loves may be painful or even abusive, and that is how we come to define relationships.  That becomes the familiar pattern, so much so that it may feel strange and even suspicious when love is given freely with no apparent strings attached.” 

Want to learn more about how early shaming experiences may be negatively impacting how you approach love today?

Check out my book!


How I learned to believe in love again!

Laura & Rasta Xmas-2012-CROPPEDWhen I lost my career as a librarian in early 2004, I was 49 and divorced with no kids.  Lucky me, I was given five months warning that my life was about to change dramatically.  The career I had counted on for decades for my bread and butter was about to disappear before my very eyes.

I became totally focused on “What’s next?”  The rational, practical, librarian side of my brain, told me to go get another job doing exactly what I had always done.  But since there were no openings in librarianship, and I had been dying to try something completely different for years, I decided to go way out on a limb and try a new experiment.  I slowly gathered together enough courage to follow my heart this time.  I switched to plan B.

Plan B was what I really wanted to do.  It was my heart’s desire to open my own version of a non-internet-based matchmaking service.  I figured: “Why not?”  I certainly needed a date and a job!  I had a graduate degree in counseling psychology, why not use that background and experience to change my life while helping others find love?

I also felt personally frustrated with the current dating scene.  I didn’t see how I was ever going to find love again, especially if my only option was through the internet.  I figured there must be millions who felt exactly the way I did, all looking for a safer, more personal alternative.

Little did I know that my new business venture was unconsciously nudging me towards an illuminating personal journey, the search for a new belief in love.  At that time I was unaware that my deeper purpose was to find a way to get unstuck from my decades old, negative beliefs about love.  It seems my inner wisdom was determined to guide me towards a rejuvenated approach to love and life.

Luckily, the love goddesses were smiling!  My friends and I had a hilarious time thinking up some “not ready for primetime” names for my new service, names like Desperate Daters, Horney Toad Dating Service, Cynical Singles, Relationship Retards, or the Do U Believe Singles Club.  After much laughter and kidding, I settled on “Intriguing Possibilities,” and opened for business in the spring of 2004.

In contrast to online dating, my own approach was completely personal.  I met with each new client, both men and women, individually for an hour or two to fully grasp their history with love, and then find out what they were looking for next.  Of course I performed background checks, set up an exclusive database, and then started providing get-togethers for members to meet and mix.

By owning my own dating service, I quickly learned the first major problem with these kinds of pursuits.  They focus all of their energy on finding you the right date, rather than helping you find a more positive perspective on love in general.

But with so many of us traumatized by past betrayals, or stuck mentally in a space of, what feels like, permanent cynicism or defensiveness in the face of love, finding another date is not the answer.  I quickly learned how many of us now see love as an unrealistic illusion.  I also discovered the folly of going through the motions of searching for romantic love, when you feel so wounded inside from past disappointments.

Through interviews with hundreds of midlife singles, I found that most of us have a back-story which strongly impacts how we see ourselves, and what we deserve when it comes to love.  You know, those bad experiences from decades ago, when you felt so ashamed and rejected, and you knew that love was not for you.

Perhaps it was some extremely painful experience with unrequited love which convinced you to never give your heart again.  Deep down in your unconscious, lurking quietly, you may have persistent and unfriendly voices which repeat over and over again to never, ever trust another again with your heart.  Sometimes it feels like a permanent certainty that you do not deserve to meet someone who has the potential to love you unconditionally.  Or perhaps you feel like you have done everything you can to improve yourself, but everyone else seems damaged beyond repair.

It is essential that each of us re-visit our abandonment or betrayal stories, and especially the lessons we think we have learned from them.  How has your perception of that story changed over the years?  How about the deep and abiding shame you may feel from previous breakups?  Has your self-concept changed since then?  Do you need a reality check?  Does that old rejection hold far more power than it should in your present world?

Mike and Laura Lee October 2005 smallI wrote this book to help you get beyond past shame around your own experiences with love, see how much you’ve grown, and finally go find the kind of love you have always dreamed of.

Forgive yourself for any past mistakes, trust your inner wisdom this time, and change your heart and mind when it comes to love.

This is what 50-year-old love looks like!  I did.  You can too!

Why I now believe in love!

Short answer?  Because in the long-run love is all that really matters.  Everything else I could provide for myself.

Yep, all you need is love, but it can sure take some of us a long time to figure that out!  It took me approximately 49 years to totally embrace the importance of authentic love in my life and then take all the necessary risks to find it.

Ten years ago around this time my life really went to shit.  I was recently divorced, living on basically nothing, when I lost my job.  Daily I would sit and wonder: “What is the point of this crazy life I’m leading?”

I didn’t want to believe in love, because I didn’t have it and did not believe I ever would.  For me it came down to learning much more about my own shame and fears around love.   This helped me to find the courage to finally open my heart, listen to my inner wisdom and then take a gigantic leap of faith.

Little did I know then that: (A) What I was going through was a totally normal and even healthy psychological rite of passage,

(B) What I was searching for was authenticity, a better sense of who I was and how to live with that, and

(C) Things were about to take an enormous turn towards my best life EVER!

My uncertainty led to all sorts of creativity and learning experiences.  Breakdowns do lead to breakthroughs in the most amazing ways!  My attempt at starting my own dating service led to meeting the love of my life.  My job loss as a librarian led to a new and much improved writing career.

That’s when I wrote my short e-book “Feel like a loser?  What to do when you don’t have a clue!  I thought I might share my vast experience in feeling exactly that way!

scan0012Most important lesson?  Do not, under any circumstances, give up in mid-chaos. 

Hang on because it does all change! 

I believe if you pour your heart into it and are painfully honest and authentic in your search for love, you will find it. 

Please let me know if I can help!

Selfie Plastic Surgery? Really?

OK, I’m just going to have to say something now.  I know how normal it is to be particularly self-absorbed and self-conscious in our teens and twenties.  But something tells me some are going off the deep end.  Could we be taking a few too many pictures of ourselves?

Yesterday I heard about those who take pictures of themselves from every angle, and then take those shots to a plastic surgeon to work on changing their face.

I love the assumption beneath this behavior:  I hate myself and no one will ever love me until I look perfect.

I partially blame Hollywood, celebrity worship, and advertising gone wild for our apparent obsession with appearances.  That and smartphones that make taking selfies far too convenient and easy.

But when I see this kind of extreme narcissism and surface consciousness, I can’t help but respond with:  “If you think you look imperfect now, just wait until you’re 45 or 50!”  How is the younger generation going to deal with the natural aging process?

My advice:  Quit obsessing about your physical appearance and start building character, compassion and self-confidence TODAY!  These are the qualities you will need to have a successful life.  You are so much more than the way you look!

What have you done today to show compassion to yourself and others?  Take a ‘selfie’ of your character by keeping a journal, and writing down the ways you hope to become a better person in the future.  Set goals beyond your appearance and reach them.

These are the behaviors that really pay off in the long run when all of that youthful charm and self-absorption fades.

Post Script: Here’s a new article about how BAD selfies are for your self-image!

Marriage, divorce and conscious uncoupling

divorce smallThe recent announcement from Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin of their ‘conscious uncoupling’ brings new emphasis to the fact that American views on divorce have changed dramatically since the 1950s and 60s.

Gone are the days of women feeling a sense of failure and shame when the marriage doesn’t work out… right?

In my mother’s day, the received wisdom of the day was that the only way to have a happy marriage was for the woman to give up any aspirations that might threaten their husband’s sense of superiority, to make his interests hers, and to never ask for help around the house.  Back then the men made the big bucks and women were much more dependent on their husbands for their livelihood.

Then why did I feel like such a failure when I requested a divorce back in 2000?  Why did it feel like I had failed somehow?

Divorce has become a fact of life when we now speak of ‘starter marriages’ and 2.4 millions Americans untying the knot in 2012. Divorce rates are presently highest among baby boomers,      while declining slightly in society as a whole.

What is the meaning and purpose of marriage today?

For me, marriage has become a piece of official paper which says that you can now share health insurance, file your taxes jointly, and visit each other in the hospital.  That may seem cold, but there is a harsh reality to official acceptance of your chosen lifestyle.

What still matters most is LOVE.  Just because you may be divorcing, please don’t lose your faith in love.  Just because one particular dream did not work out as you originally hoped or planned, please don’t beat yourself up and then give up on love.

Love is so much more than marriage or divorce.  Love is the force that holds us all together, and finding the strength to love yourself and give yourself lots of  compassion at difficult times like divorce, is the key to your future happiness.

Love doesn’t make the world go round, but it sure makes the journey more worthwhile!